The Occupation and Fortress Europe

How Israel’s wall helps construct the new Fortress Europe.

Tuesday, 3 May, 2011 - 13:28
London, UK

Jimmy Johnson
Israel’s policies against Palestinians and the political doctrine of ‘Fortress Europe’bear surprising resemblances. The military and security technologies involved share several producers. Israeli companies involved in the enforcement of European exclusion policies provide equipment developed for Israel’s surveillance and control regime over the Palestinian population.

European states have, beginning with the Schengen Agreement in 1985 and continuing with the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Barcelona Process undertaken a process of erasing borders between European nations while further solidifying borders with non-European countries. A central component of this effort has been the control of the common ‘external’ borders of member states to restrict undocumented immigration, asylum seekers and smuggling, primarily from African, Middle Eastern, Asian and some Eastern European states. The attempts to make these common borders impermeable have given renewed life to the Second World War term ‘Fortress Europe’.

In April 2010, Ra’anana-based NICE Systemswas awarded a contract as part of a new surveillance system for Poland’s eastern border. The project was co-financed by the European Union’s External Borders Fund (EBF). The EBF’s 2010 Annual Work Programme notes that “the management of the external borders [is] one of the cornerstones of the progressive establishment of the European Union as an area of freedom, security and justice.” Alternately put, for Europeans to have justice, freedom and security, non-European access to the continent must be restricted. This mirrors Israeli policies of ‘separation as security’.

In addition to Poland, several other EU nations are investing in militarized Israeli security and surveillance technologies for their borders. Greece bought naval craft from Israel Shipyards in 2004 “to patrol the long stretch of the southern sea border, where smuggling and illegal immigration are frequent.” The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary purchased Skylark drones from the Haifa-based Elbit Systems in 2009. Elbit is also the contractor for Lithuania’s coastal surveillance system, delivered in 2007. The system was also EU-funded and Elbit’s press release at the time noted the system’s target to be “illegal border activities.” Elbit Security’s Uri Dobkin said that “the system employs field proven technologies,” a major selling point for Israeli military and security technologies.

Elbit’s surveillance technology, including both the perimeter detection systems and drones, has a long history of use in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel’s Lebanon wars. Elbit is one of the key contractors for Israel’s separation barrier. Its “field proven” technology was constructed on the backs of Palestinians.

The EBF also funded the 2009 installation of a command and control system to assist Malta with ship interdiction. The system was purchased from Aeronautics Defense Systems, an Israeli firm better-known for its UAVs, or drones. The list of Israeli technologies used to filter out undesirables from Europe is long; it ranges from On Track Innovations passport control systems used in social sorting to Magal Security Systems’ surveillance and sensor systems for border monitoring. Each of these technologies was engendered by the occupation.

Israel’s infamous separation barrier in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is just the latest set of walls and fences it has built to separate Israelis from Palestinians, and Palestinian communities from each other. There has been a wall around Gaza for years and numerous illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are surrounded by fences and surveillance networks. These barriers involve land confiscation and severe restrictions on freedom of movement of Palestinians living near them. Their primary purpose is to further the general policy of hafrada, separation. They physically distinguish ‘Us’ from ‘Them’ and can enforce such categories where they do not yet appear to exist. This is why, in addition to a wall around Gaza, there is a wall built between (Palestinian) Pardes Snir and (Jewish) Nir Tzvi, two neighborhoods of Lydd/Lod, even though the residents of both neighborhoods are Israeli citizens. Tellingly, the West Bank wall is referred to in Hebrew as the ‘separation fence’ (Gader HaHafrada), the official English name of “security fence” notwithstanding. A common refrain in Israeli political discussion and a key articulation of the “demographic bomb” is that hafrada is needed in order to maintain a Jewish majority (Note that hafrada can be accurately translated into a well-known Afrikaans word…). Even when the term “security fence” is used, the “security” in question is never that of Palestinians.

The EBF’s Annual Work Programme, too, relies on the language of ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them.’ The EBF was created as part of the “Solidarity and Management of Migrations Flows” programme. The programme has four dimensions.

The first concerns ‘integrated management of external borders’ and the development of a uniform European border regime.
The second concerns asylum policy. Part of the ‘solidarity’ element is the development of a standard policy of allowable asylum. Alternatively put, it is Europeans who will determine the validity of suffering and persecution.
The third concerns ‘the social, civic and cultural integration of Non-EU Member Country Nationals’. How this fits in with recent declarations by David Cameron and Angela Merkel regarding the failure of multiculturalism remains to be seen. The rising tide of European anti-immigrant fervor suggest that it doesn’t.
The fourth concerns ‘the fight against illegal immigration and the return of Non-EU Member Country nationals residing illegally in the EU’. This is, in effect, a variant on Israel’s policies of hafrada.

There are clear differences between the political structures of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians and the EU’s racist anti-immigrant policing. Israel’s policies are part of an ethnocratic settler-colonial regime, whereas the essence of EU policy socio-economic and ethno-nationalist exclusion.

Irrespective of the ideologies that drive them, the two systems overlap in their attempt to monitor and control populations seen as hostile or undesirable, populations to be filtered out before entering the sovereign space of either the EU or Israel. Israel has decades of experience developing surveillance and social sorting systems to monitor Palestinians. For this reason it is a go-to destination for these “field proven” technologies. So long as the occupation continues, Israel will continue to produce and export tools from its real-life battlefield laboratory. And some of these will be deployed to support anti-immigrant policies in the EU.

Jimmy Johnson enjoys tap-dancing and is the founder of Neged Neshek, a project documenting Israeli arms exports. He is former International Coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and can be reached at jimmy@negedneshek.org.

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